Menu Insights

Good catch

By Jo Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cooking, Restaurant

The Seafood Pub Company won Best Pub Group Menu in Restaurant’s Development Chef Awards 2014
The Seafood Pub Company won Best Pub Group Menu in Restaurant’s Development Chef Awards 2014
Antony Shirley, executive chef/director of the five-site Seafood Pub Company, which won Best Pub Group Menu in Restaurant’s Development Chef Awards 2014, shares menu insights

What food concepts/restaurants most inspire you?

Big London brasseries have always inspired me from Langan’s to the Ivy, the Wolseley, Berners Tavern — all-day operations serving great food. Mark Hix is a massive inspiration, using only a few seasonal ingredients, he’s always been a few steps ahead of the game — he creates trends. I like the idea of simple dishes with only a few components — this is how our menus are driven.

What trend do you think is having the most influence on pub menus?

Street food and the whole Americana movement will be around for a while I reckon. There are burger, rib and chicken shops all over London. This is still flooding the country. I’m really surprised at how much everyone has embraced this style of cooking, from a business angle, it’s great for profit, I don’t find it very light to eat though. Street food is amazing diverse and flavoursome, we’ve had a street-food section on a few of our menus — I like this style of food a lot.

What do you think are the biggest crimes against food you see in pubs?

Trying to offer too much choice then not being able to execute it. You need a big to team to produce a big menu. Using bad ingredients then trying to charge too much money for a dish. Our customers know quality, we charge a little more for some things but serve a good-sized portion. All of our fish is no less than 8oz — there are not many restaurants out there doing that.

What is the key to keeping chefs/kitchen staff motivated?

Bright, clean kitchens with plenty of equipment so they can do their job properly. Training and eating — let them eat the dishes they are cooking, it’s just as important to learn to eat as to learn to cook. We cook three to four dishes a week for all the staff to try. It helps the front of house to sell the dish and helps the chefs in terms of execution and seasoning. I like to make sure my staff get time off so we get the best out of them when they are in the kitchens.

What is the best thing you have introduced to your food offer in the past year?

We’ve introduced a clay pot section to menus, terracotta pans that fish can be baked in or a pie can be served in. We use them to actually cook in, it’s not just for presentation, they reduce pan work and speed up service while offering an interesting range of dishes. They have gone down really well in the pubs.

What would be your three ‘desert island’ pub dishes?

Baby back ribs with orange, rosemary and chilli — great sales and a great dish that appeals to all our clientele. Fish pie — you can’t have a seafood pub without fish pie on the menu, again one of the best sellers and it’s a classic. Syrup sponge — biggest selling pudding even through the summer months.

What do customers in 2014 want?

Well-priced interesting menus served by great staff in a friendly environment. A customer’s expectation of service is much higher than years gone by, it’s not just about the food on the plate any more, You have to over-deliver in all areas of your offer.

What is your idea of a perfect pub menu?

Be realistic, cook for the customer and not yourself. Look around the area you are opening in and cook food that is priced appropriately, don’t be exclusive be inclusive. Size of menu always depends size of the site and the kitchen, that’s how we work. A 70-seat pub for us will typically have eight starters, 11 mains and six puds, a few small plates and side orders. The kitchen can cope with that and reproduce the dishes time and time again. Classics can sometimes be lightened up but don’t move to far from the original, we never mix continents in a dish — no fusion.

What is the best pub dish you have eaten recently?

Langoustines in the shell with chorizo and greens at the Star at Harome — every dish I’ve eaten there is amazing. I love the charm and character of the place. I had an excellent pig’s head sausage in a little pub in the hills of Tarragona on a recent wine trip — that was also tip top.

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